Ronald Moore

creator/executive producer Michael Taylor talks about his new sci-fi creation

Don't you dare call the upcoming presentation of Virtuality a movie, at least not around creator/executive producer Michael Taylor. I discovered last night at a screening of the show that this is in fact a pilot, and not a "two-hour movie" like Fox is promoting it and I also discovered that this is a damn fine pilot as well (CLICK HERE for my full review of this wonderful two-hour pilot). I was invited to the Universal lot for a screening of this new endeavor, which Taylor created with the help of Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, with whom Taylor worked with on Battlestar Galactica as a writer and executive producer. Before the screening started the assorted press corps were given the opportunities to talk to Taylor about his new endeavor and you can take a look below at my exclusive interview with Taylor.

Michael Taylor - Creator/Executive Producer

So can you talk a bit about how this whole thing got started and how you came on board?

Michael Taylor: Yeah. Ron (Moore) and I were both talking separately with a pair of producers, Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, partners in BermanBraun, a big production team at NBC. Lloyd Braun had always wanted to do a space show. He had a fascination with just an idea of a rocket, a powerful rocket that would rip around the sun and suck up some sun juice and go even faster and further. That's really all it was. He wanted to see a great show about a mission. I happened to have a story in my pocket about a Mars colony which sends out a mission, sort of 2001-y, and Ron Moore had a different idea about what would astronauts do on such a mission? How would they entertain themselves? The thought of virtual reality entered his head and that became the key link. So they said why don't you guys get your peanut butter and your jelly there and mix it up. We got together, we talked about it and then the idea that maybe the idea that these people might be sending messages home, that might be a reality show, maybe it's privately funded. When that third element came together, a space voyage, a reality show, virtual reality, all these layers, we understood what this show was and what it was about. Reality vs. unreality, our own obsession with technology and how it's changing us, all those things. Then it was full steam ahead.

So when you got everything in place, did it take that long to write the pilot?

Michael Taylor: Oh no. I whipped it out in a day... no. It was a long process. We were stymied because of the writer's strike. I just had an outline beforehand and afterwards I just had to rush, rush, rush to write, with Ron over my shoulder like a guardian angel like you wouldn't believe. So that's how it came to be.

Can you talk about the casting process and how you got all these actors?

Michael Taylor: We had a wonderful casting process. Gail Berman spearheaded that aspect of it. Pete Berg came in as our director and was there for the casting. I wrote additional scenes for the actors that are not in the movie, just for casting to bring out new powers and test them in new ways and to find out more about the characters. We just picked the best people, the most interesting people and we just loved the cast.

I did a conference call with Ron a few weeks ago, and there just doesn't seem like there' s anything like this out, at all. It just seems like this is the right time for sci-fi on a big network again, since it's been so long.

Michael Taylor: You would think so. It would be a wonderful time. I mean, why not? Joss Whedon's show just got renewed, thank God. Again, here's an example of a network that took the shackles off and let him do what he does, and wow. That's the hard thing right now, to bet on science-fiction. When you look at it, though, in the movie theaters, science-fiction is what's delivering the biggest audiences and on television, shows like Lost, these are essentially science-fiction shows, very much so. You know, real science-fiction, it's a heady mixture. It can be a bit off-putting to networks, a little scary. There are a lot of balls flying around and there are certainly a lot of balls in our pilot. Then again, this is a pilot. Our subsequent episodes that we had mapped out, it becomes sort of a thrill-ride. It's much more streamlined.

So, God willing this does get picked up, are you aiming at a 13-episode series or 22?

Michael Taylor: Well, Ron, typically, and I, under his tutelage, have gotten used to thinking of it in terms of 10 to 13 episodes. So it's a half a network television season, to plan that far ahead, have an really good idea of where you're going by the very end of the season and have a good idea of where you're going by the half-season. The first spate of episodes was that first 13 or so and we had a very good idea of where that was going.

So, as far as the visual effects, what kinds of things can we expect from these virtual worlds? It's a lot of green-screen, I can imagine.

Michael Taylor: Well, it's pretty much all green-screen. That's how we decided to do it to keep the cost down for a television series and we just started liking it. This has never been done before, as far as I know, on television. A lot of people use green-screen to recreate environments that are based on partial locations or sets. Everything in our virtual realities are green-screen. It's not based on any photographed realities or locations, it's all created in the computer. It's true virtual reality, like in the gaming technology taken to the Nth degree and it's how we do it on a budget and we just love to look at it.

Does that pose any problems if it goes to series, getting it out on a weekly basis?

Michael Taylor: No, that's why we picked it, because it is more affordable to do it that way. We have an in-house special effects team, lead by a master, Gary Hutzel, who did all the effects on Battlestar Galactica, on a tight budget, and it's amazing. It's amazing what he can do and what his team can do, so no, it's ready to go, for any network, for any cable network. Mostly we love it because of the look.

So is there maybe a number out there, ratings-wise, that like if it gets this kind of numbers...

Michael Taylor: 100 million people, essentially. They want everyone in Iran to stop protesting and just watch.

So if the war stops, they'll pick it up?

Michael Taylor: Yeah. Stop democracy, start watching Virtuality. Seriously, I don't know. I mean, Dollhouse did not do large numbers, but it was sustained. I mean, this is a Friday night. This isn't a show that's been on the air and acquired a mass audience like Battlestar. So, if the whole Battlestar audience tuned in to this brand new show, I think it would be significant, but, at the very least, that has to happen. For a network show, even on a Friday, they need millions of people watching. Millions of eyeballs. I sent around a letter myself, to my family and friends: 10 Reasons to Watch Virtuality. It's on the web now. Find your own 10 reasons, send them to another 10 people, and they will watch the show. That's the main thing, is to get the word out and hope people tune in on Friday.

Virtuality airs tonight, Friday June 26, at 8 PM ET on Fox. This truly is an amazing pilot, folks (CLICK HERE, again, to check out my review), so if you're a fan of Battlestar Galactica, I have to imagine you'll be a fan of this new show as well. Peace in. Gallagher out!